I had some expectations for my life, and my life isn’t turning out as expected. I expected I’d go to college, serve a mission for my church, maybe attend graduate school and then get married, work for a while and have kids. That all happened. Perhaps not in the same way or as quickly as I thought it would, but it happened. What happened after that is where the “unexpected” comes in.
I had my first two kids close together—sixteen months apart—and it was planned. My thinking? I’m devoting my life to this motherhood career right now, might as well pack it in, like I do with everything else. It seemed sensible, like a good, sound plan, but living through that plan was harder than I had expected.
I expected that the first 18 months with two small children would be killer, but after that, things would get better. Even when my second was well over two I felt far from having things under control. I didn’t see myself as the mom I’d always wanted to be. I had envisioned myself cheerfully discovering life with my kids: devouring books with them, taking them out to bask in the wonders of nature, experimenting, crafting, cooking, serving. I thought I’d be that cool mom who enjoys spontaneity but also runs a tight ship, teaching my kids to be polite, make good decisions, obey, work hard.
The reality was that I was tired and disorganized most of the time. I didn’t have a structured discipline strategy. I “lost it” more often than I’d like to admit, and I could barely get through the piles of laundry, let alone take that weekly trip to the library. Instead it was a monthly library trip, mostly to lug back the ambitious bag of unread, overdue books.
Around that time my dear friend snapped a picture of me and my son Charlie at the beach. She emailed it to me one night and I printed it out and looked at it, and looked at it, and looked at it.
After I got past how I didn’t like my hair and my nose, etc. (sometimes that’s all we see in pictures of ourselves) I saw the beautiful, authentic reality of my mothering captured in this moment and revealed in this image.
I realized that looking in on that scene felt vastly different from living it. The image did not present a haggard, unorganized, failure of a mother like I probably felt at points during that day, and that week, and that month. Instead, this photograph depicted a happy, fulfilled mom, drinking in her delighted little boy, sitting securely on her lap. It captured the tiny bit of perfection that exists in my life….yes, it’s small, but it was real at that moment. The picture helped me see that there is joy and love and satisfaction and even magic in my life, it’s just hard sometimes to see it through the cloudy monotony of my daily mothering routine.
I put this picture on my fridge where I could look at it every day for two reasons:
First: It reminds me that I do love mothering, that I love my kids, that they love me.
Second: It is a tangible representation of the mom I want to be, and the feeling I want to create with my kids: comfortable, happy, secure, delighted.
The philosopher Meister Eckhard said, “When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image.” The picture of Charlie and me on the beach is the image that my soul wants to experience. Having it on my fridge helps me to remember to be the mom I want to be.
I’ve always enjoyed photography, but it wasn’t until the epiphany with this photograph that I realized how powerful photography can be. I started taking my camera to work with me and took pictures of my social work clients while they interacted with their babies. I was amazed to see these photos did the same thing for them that the beach snapshot did for me. It helped them see the beauty of the mother/child connection, creating a tangible image of their mothering that enabled them to reflect on who they are and who they want to be.
It has also changed my philosophy as a photographer. Since this snapshot, I’ve tried to view photography as a tool to reveal emotion and connections. To capture true pieces of relationships, rather than just the right smile or pose.
To help people create images that their souls long to experience – Images so tangible they can jump right in and be the person they want to be.
QUESTIONS: What snapshots do you cherish? What pictures of yourself or your family do you have displayed in your home? Why do you cherish these pictures? Can a picture be therapeutic? Can a picture help you to become who you want to be? Do you like being photographed? Why not? Can you see beyond your appearance in a picture to what is happening?
CHALLENGE: Go through some photos of you and your children (or get some taken) and find one or two that represent the mother you want to be. Then put it in a prominent place and “enter your own image.”